Welcome Aboard, Bob and Doug!

Welcome Aboard, Bob and Doug!

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the two NASA astronauts checking out SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on its Demo-2 test flight, arrived aboard the International Space Station today.  They were welcomed by fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and his two Russian crewmates, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who looked very happy to have their ranks increased to five.  NASA will not decide for a month or so how long the Demo-2 crew will stay, but the goal is at least one month and perhaps as many as four.

The ISS is a high maintenance facility that takes three people just to keep it running.  Usually six people are aboard allowing other work, like scientific experiments, to take place, but currently the crew size is limited to three largely because of  delays in development of Crew Dragon and its Boeing counterpart, Starliner.

That constraint came to an end today with the 10:16 am ET docking of the Crew Dragon capsule that Bob and Doug (as everyone refers to them) have christened Endeavour.  Both are veteran astronauts who made their first trips into orbit on the Space Shuttle Endeavour and they want to continue the name.  SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk later tweeted that it is “Dragonship Endeavour.”

Shuttle Endeavour is now in a museum, but Dragonship Endeavour is attached to ISS.

Crew Dragon and Starliner are the follow-ons to the U.S. space shuttle.  In 2004, President George W. Bush decided to terminate the space shuttle as soon as ISS construction was completed.  His decision followed the 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy that killed seven astronauts, but it stemmed as much from a desire to redirect the $3-4 billion per year spent on shuttle to new exploration goals — returning to the Moon and going on to Mars — as from safety concerns.

The shuttle was supposed to take crews and cargo to and from ISS throughout its lifetime. Killing it meant NASA had to come up with an alternative.  Mike Griffin, the head of NASA during Bush’s second term, initiated a new way of doing business to replace the shuttle’s cargo capabilities.  Instead of a typical cost-plus contract with one of the major aerospace companies, he chose public-private partnerships where NASA would tell companies what it needed and let the companies figure out how to provide it. In return NASA would guarantee purchasing a certain amount of services and the companies could find other customers to close the business case.  The companies retain ownership of the spacecraft and rockets.  Conceptually, that would reduce the cost to taxpayers and create new businesses.

That “commercial cargo” program is a success.  Today SpaceX and Northrop Grumman routinely deliver cargo to the ISS (SpaceX can bring it back down, too) and a third company, Sierra Nevada Corp., will join them next year.

But what about crew?  Griffin’s plan was to build two versions of a system using a new Ares rocket and Orion spacecraft, one to service ISS and the other to go to the Moon to meet Bush’s goal of returning astronauts to the lunar surface by 2020 known as the Constellation program.

Obama killed Constellation a year after taking office, though, because it was too expensive.  For ISS, he decided instead to expand on the commercial cargo model and use it for crew as well.

It took three years longer than expected, but Crew Dragon is the realization of that decision.

Over the past several days, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has repeatedly praised Charlie Bolden, who headed NASA throughout the Obama Administration, for his perseverance in convincing a skeptical Congress that the commercial cargo/commercial crew business model would work.  Bridenstine is using the same PPP model, where NASA is a just a customer setting requirements, not designing or owning the system, for building human lunar landers for the Artemis program.

Demo-2 is, however, a test flight.  NASA Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Lueders reiterated over the past several days that her team and SpaceX will remain vigilant until the crew is safely back on Earth.  After that, the capsule will be inspected and the crew debriefed to determine if it is ready to be certified for operational use.

NASA hopes so and tentatively set August 30 for that first operational flight, Crew-1.  It will take three NASA astronauts and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on the first routine ISS crew rotation mission for the commercial crew program.

Boeing is still working on its vehicle, Starliner.  It experienced a number of problems during an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) in December and Boeing decided to refly the OFT before putting anyone on board.  Bridenstine indicated last week that the OFT reflight is not expected until the end of the year and no decision has been made on when the crewed flight test will take place.

Today, NASA and SpaceX are basking in the glow of a job well done, so far at least.  After a three-day weather delay, a flawless launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took place at 3:22 pm ET yesterday.  Just under 19 hours later, Bob and Doug docked with ISS and the hatches between the ISS and Endeavour opened at 1:02 pm ET today.

The five crew members grinned as they held a televised welcome ceremony with NASA officials and two members of the Texas political delegation (Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Brian Babin) at Johnson Space Center.

The combined ISS and Endeavour crews aboard ISS, from left: Anatoly Ivanishin (Roscosmos), Ivan Vagner (Roscosmos), Chris Cassidy (NASA, ISS commander), Bob Behnken (NASA), Doug Hurley (NASA). Credit: NASA

Endeavour docked at the ISS Harmony module, which has not been used for a crewed spacecraft since the last space shuttle flight in 2011. NASA has been buying crew transportation services from Russia since then. Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft dock at the other end of the space station.

ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 European countries operating through the European Space Agency.  About the size of a football field, it consists of two segments, the Russian Orbital Segment and the U.S. Orbital Segment (which includes modules from Japan and Europe, and Canada’s robotic Canadarm2).

Crew Dragon’s view of the International Space Station as it neared docking, May 31, 2020. Screengrab.
ISS view of Crew Dragon as it neared docking, May 31, 2020. Screengrab.

How long Bob and Doug will remain on ISS and what they will do while there is undecided.  During a post-docking press conference, NASA Commercial Crew Program deputy manager Steve Stitch said it will take about a month to determine how Crew Dragon’s solar cells are reacting to the space environment, one of the factors in that decision.  They are certified for 120 days in space, but this is the first opportunity to test them.

NASA deputy ISS program manager Kenny Todd hopes Bob and Doug will be there long enough to help conduct a few spacewalks to install lithium-ion batteries that were just delivered by JAXA’s HTV-9 cargo spacecraft.  Behnken is an experienced spacewalker, with 37 hours to his credit.  With only three crew on ISS, NASA is reluctant to perform spacewalks since two would be outside the space station and only one inside. Also, in this case, it would be a mixed American/Russian spacewalking team. Usually Russian cosmonauts do spacewalks on the Russian segment, and U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian astronauts work on the U.S. segment.

Asked how the international partners are reacting to Endeavour’s arrival, Todd said he had heard from all of them (each partner has representatives at JSC) and they are “cheering us on.”  Their astronauts and cosmonauts also will fly aboard Crew Dragon and Starliner.  Under the Intergovernmental Agreement that governs the ISS, signed when NASA planned to have the space shuttle operating throughout the ISS lifetime, the United States is responsible for ferrying crews from all the partner countries except Russia.  NASA also wants Russians to fly on the U.S. systems, and for Americans to continue flying on Soyuz, to ensure everyone is trained on each others systems.  Those flights would be on a no-exchange-of-funds basis.

Dmitry Rogozin is the head of Roscosmos, NASA’s Russian counterpart.  Previously, he was Deputy Prime Minister in charge of defense and aerospace. He can be quite vituperative and in 2014, when U.S.-Russian relations hit a low point after Russia annexed Crimea, famously tweeted that America could use a “trampoline” to get to space instead of Russia’s Soyuz.

During a press conference following yesterday’s successful launch, Musk joked that someone should tell Rogozin the trampoline is working well.  Today, after the docking, Rogozin  congratulated NASA  and said he liked Musk’s joke.

Additional SpacePolicyOnline.com coverage of the Demo-2 test flight:

Kudos Galore As Crew Dragon Endeavour Begins Test Flight, May 30, 2020
Two American Astronauts Lift Off from American Soil for First Time in Nine Years, May 30, 2020
So Close, But No Cigar: Demo-2 Scrubs Due to Weather — Updated, May 27/28, 2020
Demo-2 Still on Track for May 27, Crew-1 Targeted for August 30, May 26, 2020
Weather Only Potential Spoiler for Demo-2 Launch, May 25, 2020
It’s “Go” For Demo-2 Launch on May 27, May 22, 2020
Demo-2 Flight Readiness Review Will Continue Tomorrow, May 21, 2020

User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.